In a refreshed and revised format the tourism industry’s biggest event took place on 7th March 2015. Renamed the Westpac Vanuatu Tourism Awards for Excellence, the national tourism accolades recognize tourism industry participants who achieve excellence in service, standards and business operations. IFC, the arm of the World Bank Group focused on private sector development, has been a key partner in the revamped awards, working with the different industry associations and organisations to launch the new and inproved event. “We believe the tourism awards will help Vanuatu be a more competitive destination by highlighting properties and businesses excelling in their field, while providing feedback to help others lift standards,” said Gavin Murray, IFC Country Manager. With the support of the gold sponsor, Westpac Banking Corporation, the awards are designed to be a journey for the entrants whereby operators take stock of their business by completing the awards applications and receive feedback from a judging team of local and international tourism experts. “Westpac is delighted to sponsor the prestigious Vanuatu Tourism Awards for Excellence as we aim to support growth of the tourism industry,” explained Adam Whytcross, Westpac Vanuatu general manager. “Tourism continues to be the key revenue driver and employer for Vanuatu and showcases what we’re proudest of – our people, our landscape and our culture.”
2015 Award Winners
In the north east area of Malekula stands Vanuatu’s island bungalow winner, TamTam Bungalows. With three bungalows, this small, family run operation achieves a high level of excellence in service and guest satisfaction. Mainly catering to the European market, TamTam Bungalows offer guests a real Vanuatu experience. Food is prepared by family member and pastry trained chef, Joan Palmer. His professional culinary skills impressed the judges, as did the use of local materials in the construction and decoration of the bungalow’s site. Providing guests with information on tour and local activities is a key part of their business, with a lovely information pack on arrival. Efforts are also made to keep all aspects of the operation as sustainable as possible. “Along with the local building materials, we were impressed to see solar power being used and waste sorted, with recycling sent to Santo,” said island bungalow judge, Votausi MacKenzie-Reur.
Offering guests ten different self-contained apartments each decorated with authentic handicrafts from the outer islands, Fatumaru Lodge brings great service to independent travellers. Fatumaru apartments have fully equipped kitchens and BBQ facilities, allowing guests to prepare their own meals, as well as a breakfast service “à la Française” around the pool.
Located right on the water on Fatumaru Bay and only a five minute drive from the center of town, Fatumaru has all the mod-cons with free wireless broadband, air conditioning, swimming pool and more. Nurturing of local management and staff is also important to Fatumaru owners Pascal and Patricia Gavotto. Staff member, July, started as a housekeeper. With sponsored training and further on the job training, she now handles guest relations: a great example of one of many talented and capable staff members at this award winning accommodation!
A high standard of accommodation and involvement in the local community made this property a standout in the boutique accommodation category. Located in Santo, ‘Moyyan’ accommodates twelve guests and has a restaurant, bar and day spa. “It is a small business with such a connection with their community reflected in their product, their staff and there was a sense of genuine engagement,” said Head Judge, Michael Pusinelli. The resort maintains strong ties with custom land owners and the local chiefs. One recent joint initiative is the Natawa River Drift – a tour run by the custom land owners through taro and watercress gardens, their village and their newly established prawn farm. Resort staff helped resource the tour, while also training and mentoring the tour guides and are proud to know that the tour profits go back to the village. Investing in people pays off, with the judges commenting staff were happy and the product sound. The owners of Moyyan will happily tell you this results in longer guest stays, greater spend and consequently a healthy return on their investment.
Despite belonging to one of the largest hotel chains in the world, Holiday Inn Resort Vanuatu isn’t always focused on the big things! In fact, the mantra at the resort is quite the opposite –management believes it’s actually the little things that count. Being part of the big brand name, guests can always expect spacious rooms, standardized amenities and features, and of course friendly and exceptional customer service. However, it’s the small surprises that receive praise, such as inscribing personalized ‘birthday wishes’ on the beach and offering coconuts on arrival, gestures staff started after reading guests’ responses on Facebook. And keeping with the intention of ‘creating memories that last a lifetime’, children returning home are sent a personally signed birthday card from the Kids Club team each year. Management also believe it’s the small things provided in the work place that can make a big difference to staff and their personal lives, and staff benefits reflect this. Benefits include providing bus fares and transport for late night shifts, complementary birthday breakfasts and dinners for staff, additional annual leave bonuses and scholarships for tourism training.
As the first luxury resort ever built in Vanuatu in 2007, Eratap Beach Resort continues to deliver an outstanding experience for its guests. Guests can choose to stay at one of the twelve luxury waterfront villas, situated on a picturesque peninsula with surf on one side and the calm waters of the lagoon on the other. Keeping guests satisfied and happy is central to Eratap’s business philosophy, and one that sees them returning. From marketing the property accurately to daily monitoring of feedback, the resort goes to great lengths to make everyone’s stay memorable. Eratap Resort also encourages guests to engage with the local culture in a variety of ways, such as tasting plates of ‘Island kae kae’ canapés, guided tours of the area and the village of Eratap. The resort has been ranked the No1 Resort on TripAdvisor in Port Vila and Efate every day since September 2008 when it first made it to number one. Out of 441 reviews, 406 were perfect scores.
Vanuatu’s pristine environment is a major tourism drawcard. With its five different tours, Eden on the River, provides visitors with a way to experience and enjoy Vanuatu’s natural scenery. The “Bridges of Eden” is their lead tour, compromising of a series of suspension bridges across a stunning tropical riverscape. It is designed to give people of all ages a sustainable eco-experience that is both educational and enjoyable. Training and education of their staff are a priority for the operators, Joe and Carolyn Ernst. More than 85% of staff are women, nearly all are mothers, many of whom have never worked in tourism before. These women bring to their tour guide positions a caring attitude that is impossible to teach and their great personalities are reflected in the great feedback the resort receives. A sentiment echoed by the judges. “It was a first class team delivery of a combination of education and adventure-style eco activities,” said judge Becky Last. “I was impressed by the confidence and professionalism of all the team – but also by their strong sense of pride and fun.”
Abseiling down a waterfall with professional operators, Edge, left a strong impression on our tourism awards judges. “Wow, the impact of sitting on the bridge/reception above the cascades was a fantastic first impression,” said judge Linda Tilman. With over 18,000 visitors and excellent reviews on Trip Advisor, the judges had high expectations, and the staff delivered. “The staff made this tour amazing,” said judge Paresh Pant. “I loved the personalities, level of care and professionalism. The team takes great pride in their jobs.” To capture the memories, Edge provides a photo service, giving clients the opportunity to buy a full photo CD of their whole tour and as an extra service, generic photos of the Cascades and surrounds are included. In recent years Edge has expanded this offering to include video. Clients can now hire a Go-Pro if they don’t have their own, to capture their experience in full HD quality!
For tourists wanting to explore what lies beneath, Ocean Walker is a safe and fun way to discover it. It starts with a short walk down a ramp into the water where a purpose built helmet is fitted. From there, tourists are helped into the water, spending up to 20 minutes walking on the sea floor to a maximum depth of 4 meters. The judges agreed that it was a great and accessible way of seeing Vanuatu’s underwater world, led by a great team. “Tommy, our tour guide, was exceptional from the moment we got on the boat, into the water, and until we returned to land,” said judge Linda Tilman. “He was thorough, clear and made the overall experience very good.”
Stand out business and category winner, Vanuatu Helicopters offers scenic flights, day tours, adventure packages and resort transfers from the airport. Judges were impressed by Vanuatu Helicopters’ engagement with customers, from first meeting, to guiding on tour and follow-up communication via email and social media post tour. “Our pilot spoke to us all the time, providing excellent commentary, explaining where we were going and the significance of sites,” said judge, Becky Last. “His genuine passion for his role and for Vanuatu was evident.” Understanding the power of social media, the company has installed video cameras in each helicopter to capture the experience for guests. Simultaneously, the videos have worked as powerful tools marketing Vanuatu as a destination and Vanuatu Helicopters as a ‘must do’ activity. Encouraging customers to share content, by providing prizes for highest voted uploads, has resulted in a vast pictorial library including numerous spectacular shots of Vanuatu, many of which have been provided to the national tourism office for international marketing materials.
“The tour reinvigorated what Vanuatu means for me,” said long term resident and judge, John Warmington. As an authentic, rustic tourism adventure product, Millennium Caves certainly has an extraordinary amount of kahpow to blow your socks off. Marketed as an adventure product, it offers everything an adventurer could want, nature, trekking, waterfalls and canyoning combined with a uniquely community cultural village experience. “It is adventure plus, plus, plus – it was everything – totally indescribable,” is how one of the visiting judges retold her ‘Millennium’ experience. The dedication and passion of the entire village is evident when villagers describe how tourism has helped them build a new kindergarden and preschool, giving children access to education in their village for the first time. Both judges admired the pristine environment in which the tour operates, and how professional and dedicated the tour guides are. While the ‘Millennium’ tour was the highlight, both judges commented on the variety of soft and hard adventures on offer across the country. Could Vanuatu be the adventure playground for the South Pacific Islands? I think so!